New Obsession: PHOX

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story / Tiffany Diane Tso
photos / Pip

We are always ecstatic to discover new sounds and were definitely happily surprised at the introduction of still under-the-radar Wisconsin band Phox. The band’s visibility might be slightly obscured because they hail from small town Baraboo, Wis. (pop. 12,000), rather than the metropolises most pop bands emerge from. Phox is a band whose genre is not easily pinpointed, but when forced to describe their music inevitably, “folk-pop” and “chamber-pop” feel like the closest descriptors. Now signed to Partisan Records and with their debut self-titled album on the shelves, the sextet are busy as bees keeping up with their quickly growing popularity.

Front-woman Monica Martin and band, which includes Matt Holmen, J. Sean Krunnfusz, Dave Roberts, Matteo Roberts and Zach Johnston, have been living together in Madison, Wis. the past couple of years and recording their first album. Since its release, they have been traveling across the country headlining their own tour, playing numerous sold out shows. We are not surprised at the well-deserved success Phox has seen thus far; meanwhile, Martin stated that she never actually thought anybody would hear their music.

Because the self-titled album is the band’s first, it is a collection of older and newer songs, “a complete body of work,” Martin calls it. “Since these are the first songs I’ve ever really written, there is not a super linear story.” The album does not focus on just one single thing; “it’s drawing anywhere from relationships, to family, to trying to be self-aware and sort things out internally.”

One thing that immediately stands out in Phox’s music is Martin’s soulfully deep voice. Planets aligned to make it possible for the world to hear this captivating voice. A self-proclaimed shy girl, Martin said she only sang in private, finding choir intimidating and not understanding music theory. The only musical training she had was playing trombone in high school marching band.

Coming from a small town, the band members all knew each other at least peripherally during high school. While Martin’s self-given high school stereotype was “emo fucker,” she said her bandmates all had a hand in the town’s local music scene, which consisted of punk and hardcore, before coming together later to form Phox.

“You come up in a small town, and you’re filtered or funneled into doing practical things,” Martin recalled. “I grew up doubting myself.”

After graduating high school, Martin went on to finish beauty school and worked at a salon. An integral member of the band, Matt Holmen (guitar, trumpet), encouraged Martin to sing and even bought her a ukulele for her birthday. She describes the band as four non-musicians brought together by two people who really want to make music. However, everybody has clearly fallen easily into his or her niche within the band. Not only do they produce bewitching music as a group, the members also double as the band’s creative team, making videos and art for themselves rather than outsourcing.

Banjoist Zach Johnston directed the videos for both “Slow Motion” and “Kingfisher.”

We look forward to seeing much more from this band of an indefinable genre, though Martin has taken a liking to “lethargic pop, pop music that puts you to sleep, or pop for depressive people.”

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